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Carl ORFF (1895-1936) arr. John KRANCE
Suite from Carmina Burana (1936) [27:23]
Arthur BIRD (1856-1923) ed. Gunther SCHULLER (b.1925)
Serenade for Wind Instruments, Op. 40 (1898) [24:11]
Herbert Owen REED (b.1910)
La Fiesta Mexicana (1954) [22:40]
The Peabody Conservatory Wind Ensemble/Harlan D Parker
rec. 14 December 2000, 15 February 2001, 18 March 2001, Griswold Hall, Baltimore, Maryland. DDD
NAXOS WIND BAND CLASSICS 8.570242 [74:15] 


Carl Orff's ever-popular Carmina Burana is a prime candidate for transcription for concert bands, brass bands and brass ensembles.  The strings do not add all that much to the original score, which is driven by percussion and, of course, voices.  Give the vocal parts to the brass and or winds, and Orff's driving rhythms and colourful tunes should do the rest. 

It does not work here, though.  John Krance's transcription is not “exhilarating”, as the back of the CD case suggests, but dull and unimaginative.  He also makes some strange track choices.  Where is Estuans interius?  Surely this angry baritone solo is crying out to be allocated to trombone or tuba?  And what of the wonderfully bizarre Olim lacus colueram, the lament of the roasting swan?  No saxophone or tenor horn to paint that picture?  By contrast, In trutina and Ave formosissima, though prettily played, seem surplus to requirements.  Or perhaps I was just fed up by the time they came around. 

The Peabody Band does not help matters.  Although their playing is never less than good, there is a slight reticence to their performance and an insistence on keeping time over emphasising the drama of the music.  Ecce gratum, usually delightful and rhythmically exciting, is here messy and boring.  Ensemble is also flawed elsewhere.  There are a couple of moments of precarious ensemble in Tanz: Uf dem anger and a nasty trumpet fluff in Were diu werlt alle min.  The opening and closing tracks though portentous, lack some of the necessary weight.  In short, if you buy this disc for Carmina Burana, you will be disappointed. 

However, if you do not buy this disc at all, you will be missing out.  The other two works on the programme come off much better and are well worth hearing. 

Bird's serenade is simply delightful, and the Peabody winds – no brass or percussion here – play with a winning lightness of touch.  The piece won its composer the Paderewski Prize for th best chamber work by an American in 1901, and it is easy to hear why.  It is tuneful without being facile, rhythmically alive, and boasts bright fugal finale.  The cor anglais solo in the slow movement is also lovely in a gentle, bucolic way.

The final piece on the disc, Reed's La Fiesta Mexicana, is subtitled “A Mexican Folk Song Symphony for Concert Band”.  More than that, it is a three movement tone poem, in the Respighi mode, which depicts a religious festival in Mexico dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The first movement is a prelude and Aztec dance.  It begins with the pealing of church bells before and fireworks from the snare.  The brass take up a fanfare that could come from Miklós Rózsa score for Ben Hur.  Reed's use of lower woodwind is especially colourful, as he paints a grand parade before the folksong for the Aztec dance begins.  The second movement depicts the Mass, invoked again by the tolling of bells.  This movement is contemplative and builds in grandeur from chant-like beginnings.  The final movement, Carnival, brings the return of the festival atmosphere in an all-out party that sounds like a soft-edged folksy counterpart to the rabble-rousing conclusion to Respighi's Feste Romane.  Copland and, ever so subtly, Ives hover in the background.  This is colourful and joyous music, and well played too.   

Tim Perry 


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